Spin doctors

A former colleague once lamented that municipal politics has unfortunately evolved from being truthful and doing what is right, into doing whatever makes representatives look good.

He had a point.

While it can be argued spin has been around as long as politics, we can’t help but notice how it has gotten out of control over the years.

Some recent examples in Wellington County have provided yet another reminder of just how severely spin has infiltrated local politics.

“Blended tax rate”

One of the most obvious examples of spin rears its head every year around this time, when municipal councils approve budgets.

No longer are people living in the seven lower tier municipalities simply given the straight goods about how much their town or township has increased taxes for local projects.

That has been replaced, over the last three years or so, with spin about a so-called “blended tax rate,” which also includes the county and provincial education portions of the overall tax bill.

What happens, in essence, is local councillors take credit for the work of the county and the province, who managed to keep increases relatively low (though the county increase was still well above inflation), while disguising a higher local increase.

For example, a press release out of Erin last week, featuring comments from the CAO and mayor, informed readers council had approved a “blended” tax rate increase of 4%.

At first glance that may appear reasonable to some, but the actual tax increase approved by Erin council was 15% – a fact that was completely ignored in the one-page document.

Time will tell how, or even if, Erin residents will react to this ploy and the huge tax increase, but when Puslinch council tried to pull a similar stunt in 2010 (approving a 12% local tax increase and then passing it off as a much lower “blended” tax rate), four out of five councillors there were unceremoniously removed from office in the election later that year.

The “blended rate” smoke-and-mirrors scheme is now played out in every lower tier Wellington municipality every single year – though most often not to such an extreme extent.

While it may be nice to provide taxpayers with a net impact on their tax bills, the fact remains there is no such thing as a “blended tax rate” in municipal circles.

The lower tier municipality may collect all taxes, but lower and upper tiers establish a rate, as does the province for education purposes, and those rates are detailed on a tax bill.

The “blended rate” will be different in each lower tier municipality based solely on the local tax increase, so it makes little sense to use such a disingenuous approach.

All it does is set up another measure of confusion for taxpayers.

OMB decision

The second case of spin that blew us away was a press release issued last week out of Wellington North.

In it the township’s mayor and CAO seemed to claim victory for an Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) decision that was clearly not in the township’s favour.

Resident Jens Dam has twice successfully challenged the township at the OMB on its process to lower developments charges.

But instead of any hint of embarrassment or even an apology to residents and/or developers for bungling the file, the town instead issued a vague and misleading press release stating lower development charges are “a win for everyone.”

With such a ridiculous level of spin, it’s hard not to get dizzy.